Countless shows both home and abroad, a Mercury Prize nomination, that Jools Holland performance – all part of a breakout 2010 – culminated on Tuesday night in Vicar Street as Conor O’Brien’s Villagers delivered a decisively assured performance to draw the curtain on the most successful of years. It has been an interesting journey for O’Brien since the first Villagers EP Hollow Kind was released, seeing first the critics from more and more respectable publications falling over themselves with praise for the diminutive Dubliner and then the resultant swelling of the crowds as his songs find their homes and voices in increasingly large venues. A sold out Vicar Street on a snowy December evening was the latest bullet-point on a heady list of achievements.
O’Brien wandered on stage alone at 9.15pm, his frame engulfed by the vast Vicar Street stage and, after a brief hello, played the first few notes of ‘Twenty-Seven Strangers’ immediately seizing the crowd and not letting go once in the next 90 minutes. O’Brien has never seemed incredibly at ease on stage but if in the past there was a tendency to hide behind the microphone and imply a separation between the songs and the person that was singing them, that is not the case anymore. This is especially evident during numbers like ‘The Meaning of the Ritual’, a song so self-baring and emotionally honest but offered to the strangers in the crowd so clearly and readily that any sense of dissonance between performer and performance was gone. That was what made this show so good; even after a couple of hundred shows this year the songs still sound as fresh as if they were written yesterday.
O’Brien, flanked by band-mates Cormac Curran, James Byrne, Danny Snow and Tommy McLoughlin, also shone during the heavier, louder moments too. ‘The Bell’, a song which didn’t make it to Becoming A Jackal, was another particular highlight. All intricate grooves and stop-start tempos, it sounded not unlike something Thom Yorke might have dreamt up if he listened to a lot of Leonard Cohen when he was making Pablo Honey.
The relative lack of material that Villagers possess at this point in their existence meant that every song on the album made an appearance. There were a couple of new ones (‘Memoir’ and ‘In A New Found Land, You Are Free’), a couple that some would recognise from previous shows and releases (‘On A Sunlit Stage’ and ‘Down, Under The Sea’) but, by and large, Villagers played their entire catalogue and absolutely none of it is filler.
‘Pieces’, with its rapturous crescendo and vocal howls, brought the night to a close. O’Brien, despite claiming to be no good at speeches, said a few words thanking those in attendance not just for coming out, but for being part of this most amazing of years. It really makes you wonder what 2011 holds in store for Villagers? One can only imagine.
Photos: Sean Conroy
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